Conventional industry wisdom is that a radio station should focus on a certain type of programming. Pick a genre of music and stick with it within some well-defined guidelines. That way, the thinking goes, is listeners will know what to expect each time they tune into that station. Even more importantly, different formats attract different demographics of listeners. This makes it easier to sell those ears to advertisers.
For example, rock stations tend to attract a lot of young men. Young men like beer. Therefore, beer companies tend to advertise on rock stations.
This way of doing business has served the North American radio industry very well over the decades. But somewhere along the way, things started to get a little confusing. The rock format alone has been stratified and separated into sub-formats: mainstream rock, alt/modern rock, active rock, classic rock, etc. Meanwhile, thanks to technology and the wide availability of on-demand music, listeners have become much more ecumenical in their tastes. Look at any millennial’s phone and you’ll find songs from all over the map. Their tastes can be very, very broad.
So here’s the question: How do you square those broad millennial musical states with narrowly-formated radio? Maybe you don’t. Maybe radio has to change. Perhaps it’s time for formatless radio.
This isn’t a new thing. The original concept behind Top 40 was to play the top songs from all genres. Over the years, though, Top 40 morphed into CHR (contemporary hit radio), which itself segmented into different sub-genres (rhythmic, urban, and so on.) But is it time to revisit the original concepts of Top 40?
This is from CentralMaine.com
Formatless radio. The time has come.
First, some background. Around the time of the invention of radio, stations were generalist in nature and simply trying to draw the largest possible audience. Back then, families gathered around the radio the same way they would gather around televisions in later years. To appeal to the masses, just sponsor a radio show and sell your soap. Simple.
That’s why you have formatted radio stations. Whomever the advertiser is trying to reach, there’s a station (or stations, in the days before the 1996 Telecommunications Act when there was more competition among stations) that tailors its format — be it classic rock, teen pop, right-wing talkers, oldies, sports, or whatever — to the listeners their advertisers wish to reach.
Armies of consultants have stretched this atomization of the radio audience to sometimes absurd dimensions. It’s almost to the point where a station can tout its appeal to left-handed dentists. If you’re trying to sell a certain model car, you’d better place your ads on stations that play the songs that attract the same type of person you’re trying to sell that car to. “The suits” can hand you a list of a few hundred songs that appeal to whatever audience you’re aiming at.
But what if a station didn’t care whether you were 12 or 80, male or female, a parent or childless, or a cat or a dog person?
There’s more here.
I’ve been mulling the idea of Millennial Radio for some time. It’s not a format in the traditional sense–something that many traditional programmers can’t wrap their heads around–but it should be something that the industry is considering.